By Kate Thompson
I’ve been thinking about discussing Keyforge since it was announced in August 2018. I have long been passionate about Magic: The Gathering, so any collectable card game piques my interest. So far, the only other card game that has gripped me in the way Magic did is Hearthstone. But I was so hopeful that Keyforge would.
As I read more about Keyforge, I became even more hopeful. It sounded like they designed this card game intentionally to diverge in some meaningful ways from Magic. In Keyforge, rather than purchasing booster packs of cards and building a deck, you simply purchase a deck. Keyforge is the first Unique Deck Game, which means that each deck you purchase is completely unique -- there is no other deck with that exact card composition in the world. And there never will be. The unique aspect of this game intrigued me for a couple reasons:
It removes deck building from the picture
This could be good or bad, depending on what you enjoy most about card games. Personally, I like this because it forces players to focus on honing their play skills. It makes you work with the deck you have to figure out how to best play that deck.
It discourages mass purchasing of product
Because the decks are generated based on an algorithm and are all unique, there will be some decks that are inherently more powerful than others. So, if playing with unique decks were the end of it, people would be trying to acquire the most powerful decks. They would do this by buying up decks en masse, and/or buying decks second hand for a premium once they can see the deck list. Specifically to discourage this, there are certain mechanics that were designed to create balance between all decks.
For example, when playing a best-of-three match, players can swap decks for the second game. If the same deck wins both games, players bid chains to decide who gets to play that deck in the third game. These chains impose a card disadvantage in the game, thus hopefully balancing out the stronger deck. In addition, Keyforge comes with an app that will eventually allow you to track wins and losses with a deck. When a deck wins a certain number of games, the player using that deck will begin games with increasing numbers of chains to counterbalance that strength.
Once the deck balancing mechanics are implemented, each player must win games by playing their best. They must make good choices in each game, and they must come to understand the intricacies of their deck -- it’s strengths and weaknesses. In this way, you only really need to buy one deck, and just come to understand it very well.
This was what excited me about Keyforge, and this is what will determine whether the game has lasting power for me.
Despite the balancing mechanics seeming to very clearly indicate that the specific deck you play doesn’t matter, many people have been reacting to Keyforge in the way they would react to the release of any new collectible card game. At the prerelease event I attended, several of my opponents were planning to buy entire boxes of decks, hoping to find something powerful. Soon after release, high powered decks could be found on eBay for upwards of $1000 (decks cost about $10 to buy normally). Videos on the topic of Keyforge were often focused on how good a particular deck is. On what the best cards are. To me, this was all so beyond the point of Keyforge.
I have so enjoyed Keyforge up until now, and if you haven’t tried it yet, I recommend you invest in a deck (or two if you need one to play against) and try it out. But I implore you to reframe how you think about this type of game. Stop wondering how powerful your deck is, and start seeing each deck as the puzzle it was meant to be. Your skills as a player are what brings power to a deck.
In this age of consumerism and material clutter, there is a growing trend towards minimalism. Buy a deck, and truly see it. Let yourself learn to love it. Let that one deck spark joy in you, and let it allow you to play Keyforge with other players in a wonderful variety of formats.
Disclaimer: I do own 3 Keyforge decks. One of them seems pretty good! ;)
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